Pompeo lands in Israel for meet with Netanyahu, talks on Syria

Shortly after negotiating truce with Erdogan, US secretary of state flies in to reassure Jerusalem on withdrawal of US forces from Syrian Kurdistan

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, right, lands at Ben Gurion Airport, October 18, 2019. (Ziv Sokolov/US Embassy Jerusalem)
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, right, lands at Ben Gurion Airport, October 18, 2019. (Ziv Sokolov/US Embassy Jerusalem)

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo landed in Israel overnight Thursday-Friday for talks on Syria following the pullout of American soldiers and Turkey’s launching of a military offensive against Kurdish fighters.

Pompeo touched down after visiting Turkey with US Vice President Mike Pence for talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan which resulted in a truce between Turkey and Kurdish forces.

“Good to be in #Israel today and look forward to meeting and discussing a range of important issues, including regional developments and threats, and the security of America’s closest ally and partner,” Pompeo wrote on Twitter.

Pompeo was met at Ben Gurion International Airport by US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman.

Pompeo will meet Friday morning with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “to discuss developments in Syria and the continued need to counter the Iranian regime’s destabilizing behavior in the region,” the State Department said in a statement.

Later Friday, Pompeo will also meet with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in Brussels, the statement said.

Israeli officials, among them Netanyahu, have condemned Turkey’s military operation and voiced support for the Kurds, but have not criticized US President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw US troops.

The US, Turkey and Kurdish forces agreed Thursday to a five-day cease-fire in the Turks’ attacks on Kurdish fighters in northern Syria to allow the Kurds to withdraw to roughly 20 miles away from the Turkish border. The arrangement appeared to be a significant embrace of Turkey’s position in the weeklong conflict.

After more than four hours of negotiations with Erdogan, Pence said the purpose of his high-level mission was to end the bloodshed caused by Turkey’s invasion of Syria, and remained silent on whether the agreement amounted to another abandonment of the US’s former Kurdish allies in the fight against the Islamic State.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (C-L) and US Vice President Mike Pence (C-R), joined by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (4R), Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay (4L), Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu (3L) and senior aides, meet at the presidential complex in Ankara, Turkey, on October 17, 2019. (Shaun TANDON / POOL / AFP)

Turkish troops and Turkish-backed Syrian fighters launched their offensive against Kurdish forces in northern Syria a week ago, two days after Trump suddenly announced he was withdrawing American forces from the area.

Pence and Pompeo lauded Thursday’s deal as a significant achievement, and Trump tweeted that it was “a great day for civilization.” But the agreement essentially gives the Turks what they had sought to achieve with their military operation in the first place. After the Kurdish forces are cleared from the safe zone, Turkey has committed to a permanent ceasefire but is under no obligation to withdraw its troops.

In addition, the deal gives Turkey relief from sanctions the US had imposed and threatened to impose since the invasion began, meaning there will be no penalty for the operation.

Trump’s withdrawal of US troops has been widely condemned, including by Republican officials not directly associated with his administration. Republicans and Democrats in the House, bitterly divided over the Trump impeachment inquiry, banded together Wednesday for an overwhelming 354-60 denunciation of the US troop withdrawal.

Trump has denied that his action provided a “green light” for Turkey to move against the longtime US battlefield partners, or that he was opening the way for a revival of the Islamic State group and raising worldwide doubts about US faithfulness to its allies.

The US pullout has raised concerns of a reemergence of the Islamic State jihadist group, which US-backed Kurdish fighters fought and retook areas of Syria from, as well as the expansion of Syrian regime backers’ Russia and Iran’s influence in the country.

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